Saturday, September 29, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 143

For the past year I've been working/consulting in a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul environment for a contractor to both the Army and the Navy.  The first engagement in this area was focused on improving the throughput of jet engines in that when an engine was due for service, the contractor had to replace it with a rental engine while the original engine was being maintained, repaired or overhauled.  The contractor had to pay for the rental expense if it exceeded the contract limit which it did by a wide margin.  I used my customary approach in that we mapped the process in an attempt to identify the system constraint.  We actually found two constraints within this process and both of them involved lengthy approval processes with lots of wait time imbedded in them.  And while the paperwork was being approved, the cost of the rental engine kept accumulating.  It wasn't the engine repair time that caused the extended cycle time problem at all.  It was a classic example of policy constraints causing the excessive rental costs.  Once these constraints were identified, it was clear what had to be done.  So the question became, "Why were the approval process cycle times taking so long?"

I looked at a lot of data, including the email trails, the vehicle to transmit the approval paperwork.  What I found was that because the manager responsible for had so many other functions to perform, he would send out his paperwork usually only one day of the week.  And when he did so, he sent them out in "batches."  The effect of him "batching" the approval paperwork was exactly the same effect as a python trying to swallow a pig!  The python can do it, but the process is slow and the pig moves through the python's body at a snail's pace.  Yes, it eventually is digested, but it takes much longer than if the python had eaten the pig one bite at a time.  Batching encumbers a process by extending the overall cycle time of a process and the approval paperwork process was no exception.  So what did we do to "fix" this problem?

I watched the process of entering the data into a database by the engine manager and it was clear that it was a lengthy process for him.  It was also clear that by hiring a data entry person, the engine manager could be freed up to perform other important functions.  The costs accountants told us that we were not permitted to hire anyone, but that we could run a 3 week study which we did.  During that 3 week trial, the approval paperwork jetisoned through the process and the rental engine time and expense decreased significantly.  Problem solved....right?  I wish it would have been.

The accountants would not approve a permanent slot for data entry because it was too much of an expense!  Think about this decision for a minute.  If the cost of the rental engine was $75/hour and we were able to reduce the rental engine time from 60 hours to 20 hours.....well you can do the math.  In the cost accounting world the focus is on cost savings because they believe that the key to profitability is through saving money.  In the TOC world, the key to profitability is through making money!  And the key to making money is by increasing the throughput.  And the key to increasing throughput is by focusing the improvement effort on the system constraint.  But then again, not everyone sees it this way...............

Bob Sproull

Friday, September 28, 2012

Another 5 Star Review.....

Bruce and I are very happy to share another 5 Star review from an Amazon reader, Deepak Nagar.  Many thanks to Deepak for his very kind and instructional words.  That is 7 of 7 5 Star reviews from our readers.

Bob and Bruce

5.0 out of 5 stars Am I Epiphanized? You bet.., September 27, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Epiphanized: Integrating Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma (Paperback)
Epiphanized: Integrating Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma

Through Epiphanized, Bob Sproull and Bruce Nelson have empatically sent out a message to all those who are considering to adopt TLS as their business philosophy that

- TLS implementation is extremely simple. SIMPLE does not mean easy, just SIMPLE.

- TOC adoption can be jeopardised if complexity is mixed in the implementation knowingly or unknowingly. Guard against complexity.

- Since the possibilities / potential to grow has no limit, there is an element of faith. Believing is seeing to begin with. The initial results would reveal the counter intuitive logic of few thumb-rules:

- Going slow to deliver fast result
- Holding inventory closer to the source to reduce overall inventory
- Removing deadly spell of cost-control to achieve ultimate cost control
- People are good, they are sometimes driven by wrong assumptions

- When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

This is an excellent novel. As a deserving disciples of Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, this novel could well be named "Isn't it obvious? - Part II".

I am sure this book will become a recommended read just like the iconic "Goal".

Deepak Nagar
Principal Consultant,
Avenir Management Services

Our Sequel...........

 What a surprise it was to meet the new owners of Barton!  Conner and Becky certainly surprised us all didn't they?  And Joe’s wife having another baby?  Who figured that would happen?  And then Stan announces that he’s getting married.  Yes, Epiphanized was full of surprises and I’d like to tell you that everyone lived happily ever after, but as you’ll all find out in the sequel we’ve begun to write, life is not always as predictable as we’d like it to be.  There are twists and turns in everyone’s life and our sequel is no exception.

One of the things we want to do in our sequel is to move away from the traditional manufacturing scenario that many of the TOC books you read present themselves in and move on to areas like service industries and even a look at the medical field.  We’re doing this because we want to show you that these tools, principles and techniques are not limited to a manufacturing environment.  We will introduce some new tools or at least some tools that we didn’t weave into the story-line of Epiphanized and we’ll use these tools in an environment that is not manufacturing which many of you have requested since reading the first in this series.

Since writing Epiphanized we have received quite a few good reviews which indicates to us that many of you liked what we had to offer.  There will be some new characters added to our sequel as the situation arises, but we won’t forget about Joe, Sam, Connor and Becky.  One of the industries we will enter into is Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and specifically, we’ll probably write about Aviation Maintenance.

Another area we will explore is the medical field where we’ll demonstrate how the same tools, principles and techniques we used in Epiphanized will work equally well in this industry and for that matter, any industry.  You’ll see us writing about problems in, for example, an emergency room and a surgical unit and we’ll weave new characters into this new story line.  In these days of rising medical costs, we believe we can demonstrate to a whole new audience that the key to profitability is not through saving money, but rather through making money.  As we demonstrated in Epiphanized, these two approaches are dramatically different.

We intend to keep the format simple and easy to understand because that’s what many of the Epiphanized readers said they liked about it.  We don’t intend to bore you with excessive theory because we want you to be able to read our work, become epiphanized, and then apply it to your own work scenario.  For Bruce and me, it’s all about helping companies get better and to become more competitive.  Making money on a book is not what motivates either of us.  Seeing, or at least reading about, personal epiphanies is payment enough for us.  We all have a responsibility to “give back” as we live our lives and helping people and companies succeed is our form of payback.

We’ll keep you informed about the progress of our sequel and we even welcome suggestions about different industries you’d like to see included or even improvement tools you’d like us to write about.  Our intention is to entertain, but at the same time we want to educate our readers on how to make dramatic improvements in very short time periods.  These two are not mutually exclusive!  So stay tuned and as I mentioned before if you have suggestions on things you’d like to read about, let us know and we’ll make every effort to include them in our sequel.

In closing, we want to thank everyone for their support of Epiphanized and we look forward to completing and distributing our next book.

Bob Sproull

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 142

In my last posting, I told you that Bruce would have a follow-up on getting buy-in for change and here it is.
Getting By-In for a Change
Sometimes getting the necessary buy-in for the changes you want to make can be a difficult process but, not impossible.  In the TOC Applied Systems Thinking course (Jonah Course) there is a segment (module) dedicated to this process which provides some useful guidelines to implement change.

In general, some people tend to resist someone else’s ideas for change.  It falls under the “not invented here syndrome” and can, at times, be troublesome to overcome.  However, there is also some simple and powerful psychology involved and if you understand that:

1.      Some people have a very powerful intuition in areas where they have experience.

2.     Some people don’t recognize the need for change.

3.     Some people don’t always understand what needs to be changed or why.

4.     Most people want to feel comfortable that the change is likely to succeed.

5.     Most people want to understand how any change will impact them.

If you take the approach of just presenting “your idea” it will be a challenging effort to succeed.  However, if you ask for and accept input(s) from others, your ideas will have a much greater probability of success.  If you allow other people to modify or even criticize the solution, then ask them to help make the corrections.  In others words, ask them “What would you do different?”  Always assume the other person has a good point, even if they have not presented it well.  Listen first to understand what the person means, and not just what they are saying.  And by ALL means never make the other person look bad.  You need to always show how the solution leads to their benefits, and addresses their problems.  If you give them the opportunity to help design the solution the chances of their buy-in will be almost 100%.

While some people will resist change, in most cases there is at least one person who does not resist; the person who invented the idea.   First, and foremost, you want to seek to create ownership of the idea(s) that you want to see implemented.  It is not uncommon that the emotion of the idea’s inventor will provide a very powerful platform to guide other people’s energy toward supporting an idea.  By allowing other people to modify your ideas, you create a situation where the solution(s) can become other people’s idea(s), and not just yours.  In essence, you have enacted the “Socratic method” that allows others to participate. What is very important at this stage is, don’t rush to reveal your answer, always allow the person time to digest your ideas and reach the same conclusions on their own.  When the “new” idea becomes “their” idea you have successfully used the Socratic Method to create the necessary ownership.  When other people own the idea (solution) they will most likely make it happen in short order.

Logic can be one of the most powerful tools we use to gain a consensus for ideas.  Logic, both necessity and sufficiency, can be used to show how something systematically will help to solve a problem, reach an objective, or overcome an obstacle.  As powerful as logic is, emotions are even more powerful.  When provoked and pushed to the limits, emotional resistance will block even the most solid logic.  Emotional Resistance to a good idea can come in many forms but, the two most prevalent are:

1. Showing the person responsible he is wrong. (making him or her look bad)
2. Acting as if your solution is the answer to the world’s problems.  (It’s probably not, so don’t pretend that it is.)

3. Let it be the others person’s idea … it’s OK!
The scenario that you really want to end up with is a situation where you can help others to recognize the existence of the problem and/or the need to change.  The starting position CANNOT be one of “you” against “them”, but rather strive for a position of “you” and “them” against the problem – not against each other.  If you approach it in this manner, you will enable others to see a way out of the problem or a solution for the problem.  A solution developed, with others, is a solution that leads to everyone’s benefits, in essence, the WIN-WIN.  Remember: there is no useful solution except for the WIN-WIN.  Anything else is just a win-lose.

In your desire to implement change you will likely encounter some other categories of people.  Through time we have narrowed these down to three (3) categories.  These categories are not based on job functions or organizational titles.  These categories of people can exist anywhere up and down the organizational chain.  It is highly probable that once you understand these categories, you will know instantly when you run into one of them.

The three categories are:

1.  Directly Responsible Person (DRP)
The type of person is affectionately known as the D-R-P.  This is the person who is tasked with responsibility of the core problem, or the area that you are considering for change.  They very clearly understand the subject matter.  They are also extremely sensitive to (and very often tired of) being blamed for ALL the problems.  What this type of person wants more than anything is – a way out of the problem.  These types of people usually suffer from a martyr complex and will feel directly attacked even if they aren’t directly responsible.

2. .     Intimately Involved Person (IIP)

The IIP clearly understands the environment where change is needed.  It is possible this person is the next level up in the organizational chain.  It is also possible that they exist in areas outside of the organization.  If correctly situated in the organization the IIP can be very important for gaining consensus for your new ideas and change.  They are a great person to have on your team.

3.     Outside Person (OP)

The outside person is usually totally unconcerned/unaware of Undesirable Effects (UDEs) that exist.  They usually sit at the higher level of the organization structure and perhaps even at a Corporate level.  They are for the most part disconnected with the realities of the lower organizational structure.  The connection between necessary actions and the implied benefits usually isn’t obvious to them.  However, it is highly probable that you will need their cooperation for the intended solution.

By understanding and looking for these three categories of people you can learn to temper your buy-in approach, either up or down, in order to get the buy-in and consensus you need.  Good luck with your approach.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 141

In my posting today, we are privileged to have Bruce Nelson writing for us.  In this posting Bruce discusses the concept of change….and maybe more correctly, necessary change.

Is Change Really Necessary?

Bruce Nelson

I guess the honest answer to that question is: “it depends.”  It depends if the change you are making is really necessary, or are you just changing things because you can?  It depends if the change is associated with a systems constraint, or is the change a non-constraint?

Let’s talk about “unnecessary change” first.  Sometimes change just for the sake of change can have destructive outcomes no matter how good the intentions are.  Unnecessary change is most commonly associated with organizations that are working in isolation of each other with no real “focus” on the overall goal of the company.  Each individual organization has determined some pre-defined goal(s) that they want to accomplish and they set out to do so.  Sometimes they do this without any real understanding of the overall systems affects that the proposed change might have on another organization.  As an example, suppose a sales organization wants to increase sales without a concrete understanding of the internal capacity of the manufacturing organization.  More sales without the necessary capacity will be very destructive to the manufacturing organization.  There will be increased late orders, longer lead times and unhappy customers.  So, an improvement in one organization can have a very destructive effect on another organization.  What started out with good intentions quickly became a big problem for the entire company.
Now let’s talk about necessary change.  Any change that can move the company closer to its overall goal (make money) is probably a very good change to make.  Any recommended changes brought forward can be evaluated with a quick and effective litmus test.  Ask yourself, “If I make this change will throughput (T) go up?”  You can also ask “Will operating expense (OE) stay the same, or go down?”  Or, “Will inventory/investment stay the same or go down?”  If the answer to any of these questions is “NO”, then it is probably not a good or necessary change make and should be shelved until another time.
However, making necessary changes does require some accurate information.  First, you must know where the systems constraint currently resides.  Second, is accurate (probable) information about where the constraint will move next?  If the system constraint limits the system output, then any improvement of the constraint will improve throughput through the system.  The first litmus test has been passed!  If you spend your time and resources “focused” on anything except the constraint, you will miss the opportunity for maximum “leverage.”
If you also have a good idea where the constraint will move next, then the necessary planning can be undertaken to deal with the next constraint.  This sequence of finding and fixing is exactly the same as the “Piping Diagram” that has been referred to so many times on this blog.  Find and fix the first constraint and move to the next one.  This sequence allows you to make the necessary improvement because you “must” and not just because you “can.”
I want to thank Bruce for writing this thought provoking piece.  In our next posting Bruce will write a follow-up segment on change buy-in.
Bob Sproull

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A response worth sharing.........

This morning I received a response about Bruce and my new book Epiphanized that I just had to share with you.  This type of response is the real reason Bruce and I wrote this book in the first place… get the message out to help people and Connie’s response tells us that it did.  Bruce and I are grateful to people like Connie who are compelled to share their feelings about something new that they read and learned.  Here is the dialogue I had with Connie this morning.
Date: 9/22/2012

Subject: RE:RE:Our new book is finally ready as an ebook!!

Hi Bob,

I just finished Chapter 5 and I want you to know the book has moved me to tears...that's a good thing! I now know how to better articulate the constraints we face inside the technical training department to senior management. Although ours' is a transactional-based value stream, the premise is the same: inputs-process-outputs. In a nutshell: Constraints based on curriculum (input) adversely impact our ability to effectively train (process) our maintenance technicians to ensure they remain current in their knowledge & skills (output).

Ever heard of scenario based training? Your book is the epitome of it! The story you weave, in concert with tool application works extremely well for have "made the complex simple."

Awesome. Just...awesome. I now have hope :) Back to the book, I must!

Connie Moore,
United Arab Emirates, Airlines/Aviation

I then asked Connie if she would permit me to post her comments on my blog and here was her reply.

Subject: RE:RE:RE:Our new book is finally ready as an ebook!!

Absolutely, Bob. I've already posted a version of it on LI & FB. Tweeted about it, too. Reviewed it in Apple iBook but not sure it "took." iPads can be fickle...

Got to get the message out! I'm still tearing up, this book, its message and tools have enabled me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Suggest that you adapt this book for a transactional scenario ;)


Thank you Connie for your kind words and enthusiastic support of our book!

Bob Sproull

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Epiphanized Book Reviews

So far, Bruce and my book, Epiphanized: Integrating Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma has had six reviews posted on Amazon.  The following are those reviews and the reviewers rating (1 to 5 Stars).  Bruce and I are grateful for all of the reviewers kind words.

Philip Marris Paris, France – Rating 5 Stars
At last a book that correctly presents the three main industrial performance improvement approaches - TOC, Lean and Six Sigma - explaining why if you use a combination of the 3 you will have a system that will enable you to improve much faster and reach higher levels of performance.

The book has a "business novel" format very similar to the The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. Everything moves very fast; changes happen on a day to day basis because that is what TLS enables. As a result it has a "hard to put down" edge to it you will not find in other books.

I think this book is going to have a very significant impact on industry.

Philip Marris

Marris Consulting, Paris, France

Alpha22222 – Rating 5 Stars
Excellent book. Broken into two books in one. It helps better calrify the Thinking Processes.
Although there are several typos, they don't take away from the rich content.
This book should be read by the incoming freshman at Harvard Business School. It is already recommended as a reading requirement to be used in conjunction with Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt courses.

Dennis Godwin – Rating 5 Stars
For most CPI Practitioners, their entire apprenticeship is like drinking from a fire hose. We've all been there. We're trying to learn the ins and outs of Measurement Systems Analysis while contending with planning team meetings. Or, maybe we're dealing with some change management issues with senior leadership while learning an appropriate approach to piloting the new process. All of this at a time when we are still sort of unsure of ourselves. All these matters combine to make one big firehose to drink from in addition to the one you've been drinking from in a classroom. This is why Bob's and Bruce's book shines.

They remove the pesky fire hose by immersing you in a set of brilliantly developed, but familiar characters and a stream of familiar situations. With all of this familiarity, you're left to learn only one thing: a very simple, yet oh so powerful approach to applying the 3 disciplines of lean, six sigma, and the theory of constraints together.

To sweeten the pot even more, when I was caught off guard with new terminology or concepts, the brilliant addition of the appendices in the back of the book turned my entire experience into a full service classroom complete with text book in hand. Hmmm.... A classroom that I can't put down! Masterful!

Thank you, Gentlemen, for a great read AND my new found skill set.

Dennis J. Godwin
Industrial Engineer
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Theory of Constraints Jonah

Richard S Melrose (Boynton Beach, FL, US) – Rating 5 Stars
"Epiphanized" properly emphasizes the focus and leverage that Theory of Constraints (TOC) adds to Lean Six Sigma (LSS) disciplines.

Bob Sproull and Bruce Nelson have crafted a business novel and reference book, in one, to make the power of TLS (TOC Lean Sigma) understandable and accessible to anyone in business.

I highly recommend this easy read/reference to C-suite executives, operations managers and LSS Black Belts, alike. You can read this book without having ever read "The Goal" - i.e. one of "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time" and one of only eleven in the "Management" category.

You will gain fresh perspective and important understandings about the Operational Excellence contributions readily available through Constraints Management, Throughput Accounting, Critical Chain Project Management and the TOC Thinking Processes.

In all likelihood, your personal epiphany will have you wanting to share with colleagues and to learn more yourself, just like the characters in the novel. Fortunately, all you'll need to do is "Google" to find a wealth of additional reading and other resource options.

CAUTION: You might develop a fancy for red wines made with 80% or more Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany.

Bill Coady – Rating 5 Stars
Epiphanized: Integrating Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma A book in two halves the first part a story but the second part a detailed explaination of the tools used in the business transformation story.Excellent.

ClĂ©ment H – Rating 5 Stars
I recommend this business novel to every curious and enthusiast spirit, whether or not they've read The Goal before.

In my humble opinion, this piece of work is a remarkable contribution to the continuous improvement field. Compared to The Goal for applying TOC, I think this business novel gave more clues about how to apply the principles of TLS. The appendix for instance was a very valuable complement, and I surely appreciated it. My interpretation is The Goal was more meant to be a teaser, whereas Epiphanized focused both on convincing AND giving a more concrete toolbox to every reader; and I believe Bob and Bruce succeeded very well on this, Bravo !

Monday, September 17, 2012

Announcement on Epiphanized

For everyone who has emailed Bruce and I about when Epiphanized will be available as an e-book, that day has finally come.  Here are the links where it can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple:



Thanks everyone for your patience.

Bob Sproull

Friday, September 14, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 140

I just finished a rather intense, 3 ½ day improvement initiative at a medical facility and I wanted to share what we did with everyone.  If you’ve ever had to use a hospital emergency room and one that ultimately resulted in you being admitted to the hospital, then this blog posting might be of interest to you.  This posting is especially relevant today because of rising healthcare costs and the impending Affordable Care Act which will go into effect in 2014.

When we arrived at this hospital complex a cross-functional team had been assemble and a project charter had been assembled.  The team consisted of Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) from each of the major disciplines throughout the hospital and as you know from my previous postings, the use of SME’s is critical to the successful outcome of any improvement initiatives.  The SME’s represent the driving force behind each of the individual process steps simply because they live in it daily and are responsible for making it work.  When we started this improvement initiative, one of the first actions we accomplished was to take what we call a Team Pulse Survey (TPS) which tells us something about the mood of the team in place.  Figure 1 is an example of a TPS.

Figure 1

The TPS is intended to determine the mood of the team in terms of whether or not they believed they would or would not be empowered to make needed changes and just how difficult the project would be to complete.  As you can see, most of the team members believed that the project would be difficult to accomplish and that they would not be empowered to accomplish the goal of the project.

The problem statement for this team was that it was taking much too long to actually admit a patient into the hospital once the doctor determined the need to admit the patient.  When we started this initiative, the average time for the patient to actually leave the emergency department and be admitted into a hospital ward was around 4 hours.  The general consensus of the hospital leadership was that this time needed to be cut in half to 2 hours.  I got the sense that this team didn’t have much confidence that they could reach this goal and the TPS results seemed to confirm this feeling.

We walked the team through the development of a SIPOC and a Current State process map identifying all of the steps currently in place which included things like departmental hand-offs, communications, phone calls, faxes, etc. that exist in today’s process.  This, by itself, was an eye-opener for all of the team members.  The team had no idea that all of these actions needed to occur just to be able to admit a patient.  One of the by-products of this exercise was that the team members gained a new appreciation and respect for each other’s roles.  The process map confirmed that there were nearly 90 individual process stapes that made up the current 4 hour delay in admittance.

Our next step was to color code each step as either green (value-added), yellow (non-value-added-but-necessary), or red (non-value-added) directly on the current state map.  We explained to the team that if we could eliminate the “red” items, we could then reduce the amount of waste in the process.  Once we had completed this exercise, the team receptivity level clearly improved and they began to see that perhaps their goal could be achieved after all.

We then created an Ideal State Map which demonstrated the ideal process or the high level actions that make up the admitting process and then a future state process map.  This future state map cemented in the team’s mind that their goal was achievable.  I then presented a brief training session on the Theory of Constraints (TOC) and explained that unless and until we identified the system constraint and then exploit it, our reduction targets wouldn’t be met.  The team determined that the system constraint was the time required to clean the room before a patient could be admitted.  It was clear to everyone that we needed to reduce this time by at least 50% if we were to achieve our overall 50% reduction in admittance time.  The team struggled with this and actually told me that it was not possible to reduce the cleaning and prep time.  I, of course, strongly disagreed with them which turned their heads!  I asked them to explain their current procedure for cleaning and they told me that one cleaner was assigned to clean the bed area and the bathroom.  I simply asked them why they couldn’t use two cleaners instead of one.  They responded and told me that they were not authorized to hire any additional workers.  I just laughed and explained that I found it difficult to believe that all of their cleaning staff was busy 100% of the time and besides, the ER patients must be the priority.  There was an epiphany that took place!  They all saw the power of using Goldratt’s 5 Focusing Steps and the problem was solved.

The point of this blog was to demonstrate that even though TOC was initially designed to work in a manufacturing environment, it works equally well in any environment.  If there is a defined process, TOC, used in conjunction with Lean and Six Sigma, will always result in improvement.

So what was the final result?  The original 240 minute delay was reduced to around 70 minutes which clearly exceeded everyone’s expectations.  The number of steps reduced from 90 to 40+, no money spent, no additional manpower required, just a team of SME’s working together to solve a problem using an integrated Lean, Six Sigma and TOC methodology!  And what about the team pulse survey?  The opinions now by nearly everyone were that they were empowered and that the goal could be easily achieved.

Bob Sproull

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 139

Active Listening – How to Improve Morale and Rapidly Improve Throughput

In today’s blog posting I want to talk about a very powerful technique I refer to as Active Listening.  This posting is directed at companies where the workforce morale is not good and for all of those companies who need a rapid improvement in throughput.  I’ve been using this “technique” for the last ten years and every time I do, rapid improvement in throughput has happened.

Many companies today praise themselves for how well they “involve” their workforce in their improvement efforts.  In fact, if you go into many companies you’ll probably see a wall of pictures that support the contention that “our people are involved.”  And although I love seeing this “gallery of involvement photos,” many times they are just photos.  So the question becomes, just how involved are the subject matter experts (SME’s) within your company?  This depends on what your definition of involved really is and who you believe are your SME’s.  Involvement in many companies is simply participation on improvement teams.  But in my mind, simply participating on a team is not enough to generate significant improvement.  Why not?  I think the best way to answer this question is through a simple case study based upon a consulting engagement that I was fortunate enough to lead.

This company was in the Aviation MRO (i.e. Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) industry and was a contractor to the Department of Defense (DoD).  This company, by contract, was required to supply a pre-determined number of aircraft every day and if they didn’t, they were assessed a significant financial penalty based upon the number of aircraft that they failed to deliver.  This company was struggling to meet demand and the results were getting worse.  So much so, the corporate office replaced the site leader in hopes of turning this company around.  In addition to the financial losses for missed aircraft availability, this company was paying a huge amount of money on mandatory maintenance overtime in an attempt to “right the ship” so to speak.  One of the consequences of this mandatory overtime, which I might add had been in place for months prior to my arrival, was extremely low workforce morale.  The more overtime the maintenance workforce was mandated to work, the lower the morale became.  Call-in’s and absenteeism were high as well which were directly the result of this constant overtime.

Upon arriving to this site, I met with the new site leader to discuss his issues and it was clear to me that he was frustrated.  And while the out-going leader’s management style was command and control (i.e. do it my way!!), the new leader believed in listening to fresh new ideas.  I asked him if he was ready to involve his people and he replied that they already did.  I asked him who his SME’s were and he gave me a list of technical people (i.e. engineers, supervisors, etc.) on site.  I then responded with, “So these are the people that physically maintain the aircraft?”  His response was, “Well no, but they are the experts.”  I just smiled back and said, “No they aren’t.”  I explained to him that the true SME’s are the people that maintain the aircraft…..the mechanics, the avionic’s techs, the QA folks, the maintenance control people, the flight-line workers and logistics workers.  The look on his face was priceless….like he had just had an epiphany of sorts.  I then explained my version of employee involvement…..Active Listening.

I told him that if he wanted to rapidly turn-around his results, the first thing he needed to do was form a team comprised of only SME’s.  This team needed to be made up of all of the maintenance related disciplines, but that membership needed to be completely voluntary and wherever possible, it needed to be the informal leaders of the workforce  (I might add that this was a union environment).  I then explained the central concept of Active Listening which is, the managers would not only listen to the core team’s ideas, but as long as their solutions didn’t violate any customer or company policies, they needed to be implemented exactly as stated by this core team.  I further explained that this would be difficult, if not impossible, for some of his managers and supervisors to do, but that it was absolutely necessary.  The site leader’s response was very positive.

Several days later we had our first core team meeting.  We mapped the maintenance process first to make certain that everyone understood exactly how it was working.  This was a valuable learning experience for some of the team members because they got to see firsthand how their work impacted the flow of aircraft through the maintenance process.  I then presented the basics of the Theory of Constraints to this core team and, without exception, everyone understood.  As a team we identified the system constraint to be all of the actions required to be completed (e.g. approvals) before maintenance work could begin on the aircraft.  I then gave them training on the Interference Diagram (I’ve written about the ID on a past posting) and asked the group for solutions to each of the interferences they had identified.  There was skepticism that management would implement their solutions, but the site leader assured them that their ideas and solutions would be implemented exactly as presented.  As this first meeting ended, we asked the members to go solicit additional ideas from their co-workers.

To make a long story short, the ideas came from everywhere and most of them were implemented exactly as stated.  The core team itself was responsible for deciding which shop floor ideas would or would not be implemented.  You could see the workforce morale changing…..improving and growing.  We met with this team twice a week and began a brief newsletter of sorts to communicate the actions of the core team.  The results came swiftly and within 2-3 weeks, aircraft availability targets were being consistently met. In 3-4 weeks, all mandatory overtime was stopped.  The workforce morale jettisoned upward and availability targets were met at an even better rate…..all of this because of Active Listening, the identification of the system constraint and focusing our improvement efforts (the core team’s solutions) directly on it.

Bob Sproull

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Link to the NOVACES Blog

Recently I've been getting a lot of emails about how to use and Interference Diagram in a process improvement initiative.  Back in May of this year, I wrote a blog posting on this very subject for my company's blog (i.e. NOVACES' Blog) so I thought I would share it with you.  Hope you enjoy it and that it answers the questions I have been getting.

Bob Sproull

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Today I want to give you a link to my company's (NOVACES) blog postings where I also contribute.  The link below is a link to a posting I wrote about a different way to use the Intermediate Objectives Map.  I use this when I don't have time to do a full Thinking Process analysis.

Bob Sproull